Tom Anastos was not a happy man Friday night. After his Spartan hockey squad had been defeated by the Michigan Wolverines 5-2, Anastos called out his team's effort on his post game radio show.
"I wasn't happy from the drop of the puck, we had too many no shows tonight."
It was the most tense I have heard Anastos in any press dealings in his three years at the university, as he always struck me as an overly positive coach. However, losing to your biggest rival on back to back nights, when the game was tied in the final period each night is something you can't find positives in. In year 3 of Anastos' tenure at Michigan State, there has begun to be unrest with his guidance of the program and the remaining B1G slate could play into his future at the school.
Thursday night, the Spartans and Wolverines played at a sparsely populated Joe Louis Arena, with the Wolverines winning 3-2. This game was much more physical than the teams' first meeting in the GLI (probably due to not being freezing outside at Comerica Park). The Spartans faced adversity just 23 seconds into the game, as an apparent Dean Chelios goal was waved off due to a quick whistle by the referee. After a net scramble Chelios found his own rebound and fired it into the net but the out of position ref had lost sight of the puck and whistled the play dead before the goal. Around the midpoint of the period the Wolverines took over play and only Jake Hildebrand kept the game scoreless after the first.
The Spartans entered the 3rd period trailing 1-0 after Wolverine JT Compher had scored in the 2nd on a net scramble. The Spartan power play scored it's first of three goals on the weekend at 6:04 of the 3rd when Mike Ferrantino chipped home a pass from Joe Cox. It looked like this game was heading to overtime and possibly a shootout, until Phil Di Giuseppe scored with just 2:18 remaining. Di Giuseppe beat Hildebrand after the goaltender had made 2 great point blank saves and his defenseman in front of him failed to clear the puck.
Saturday night, once again, the Spartans found themselves in scoring positions but their inability to finish with goals surfaced again. The Spartans got the lead in the first period Saturday as Tanner Sorenson (2nd goal in 5 games) blasted a one timer from the point that beat Wolverine goaltender Zach Nagelvoort. The Spartans would surrender a deflating goal with just 6 seconds remaining, as Compher scored a backhand goal on Hildebrand on a late 3 on 2 rush. For as good as Hildebrand has been this was a weak goal by his standards. Getting beat on a backhand shot is bad enough but getting beat on the short side on a backhand shot is unforgivable. After Derek Deblois earned the Wolverines the lead, on a strange bounce off the ice that beat Hildebrand, Ferrantino struck again on the power play to tie the game. Ferrantino crashed the net on a Villiam Haag shot and forced the rebound past Nagelvoort. This is the type of play that was missing for the Spartans Thursday night and is what they need right now to force offense, ugly, grinding goals.
The third period was an embarrassment at home for the Spartans, as they were outshot by the Wolverines 18-8, surrendering 3 goals to lead us to our 5-2 final. After DeBlois tipped a point shot past Hildebrand for his second goal of the game, a defensive lapse led to a 2 on 1 rush and a Mac Bennett goal just 51 seconds later. The Spartans never recovered and tried to force offense, once again leading to an odd man rush with Compher scoring a short handed goal on another 2 on 1 rush.
Looking Back At The 3 Keys For MSU Success
- Score 3 Goals- Didn't happen either night and the Spartans have still not won a game when they scored 3 goals or fewer. The freshman line of Haag-Ebbing-MacEachern hasn't scored a goal since the GLI (6 games) and may be hitting a freshman wall. This team lacks any offensive talent that can create for themselves but at the same time they don't do the little things enough to score ugly goals. Unless there is a huge surge the rest of the season, the Spartans will once again finish in the bottom third in the nation for goals scored.
- Hold Michigan Under 30 Shots On Goal- Another key and yet another letdown. Both nights Michigan got over 30 shots, registering 32 shots Thursday and 42 shots Friday. Jake Hildebrand continues to be the MVP of this team and it's not even close. The defense corps got John Draeger back, although his minutes were limited, and their play continues to regress after a great game against Michigan in the GLI.
- Keep Emotions In Check- They held Michigan to 0-6 on the power play so even when the team got into penalty trouble they were able to survive it. Jake Chelios lost his cool late in the game Friday taking a run at Compher. It was uncalled for and Chelios is lucky he isn't sitting the game Friday night at Minnesota as well, as he could have received a game DQ for that type of hit.
So Tom Anastos' record currently stands at 41-53-10 and the calls for a change at the helm have started to rain down. I personally feel a change now would do more harm to the program than good. I wasn't the biggest fan of the Anastos hire when it happened and I still am not entirely sure that he is the answer long term. However, most top level hockey recruits commit to a program early in their junior year. It does not operate in the same recruiting cycles as a football or basketball where a coach can begin a rebuild quicker. So derailing the plan, whatever plan that may be, that Anastos has after only year 3 will set this program back more than it would help.
There is also a clear difference in play under Anastos compared to the end of the Comley years. At the end of the Comley regime, it seemed that the coach of 38 years had grown tired and didn't have the same fire from his earlier years. Recruiting fell off and it seemed Comley never adjusted his recruiting strategy from Northern Michigan, where you don't compete with the Michigan's of the world for talent. This lead to a drop off in offensive skill and missing the NCAA tournament for three years leading into the hiring of Anastos. Under Anastos there has been more of an effort shown and looking at this freshman class and the commitments over the next couple of years, I believe there is reason to be optimistic. Now whether Anastos is the guy to cultivate players' potential still remains to be seen, however I do feel the coach deserves a 4th year to see where he stands in the B1G.
Next Up: The Spartans travel to Minnesota to try and hold onto the Honeycrisp Trophy. The Gophers are ranked number 1 in the country and haven't lost since before November. In December at home the Spartans played the Gophers tough, registering a shootout victory and a one goal loss. Things will be much tougher this time around, playing the Gophers on the wide surface at Mariucci Arena.